Most people look forward to receiving their new furniture purchases with eager anticipation. After all, it is probably the third most valuable investment one will ever make. So it can be so disappointing if it does not fit into your room quite the way you had envisaged. You may even want to return it which is costly, both in money and time, for you and the retailer. So it is important that you do your homework thoroughly before making the final commitment.
1. HOW TO MEASURE
There is more to assessing a space than just measuring the width, depth and height of the room. Furniture showrooms are designed with the walls and ceilings scaled to the furniture displays. But when you look at furniture in a showroom or a catalogue or on-line it doesn’t really show you what the piece will look like in your home. Room sizes, ceiling heights, openings for doors and windows will have dramatic impact on achieving a satisfactory result.
A simple way to check how furniture might fit into your home is to get the dimensions of the items from our website, catalogue, or one of our sales consultants and mark out their widths and depths on the floor, then stack some cardboard boxes up to the appropriate heights so that you can stand back to get a good idea of how the furniture shall look like. And always remember to take into consideration the wall skirtings, vents, electrical and phone outlets etc.
Another important aspect that is often ignored by furniture buyers is consideration of access for delivery. When the carriers arrive with your eagerly awaited beautiful new purchase you will soon realise how important it was to have measured the doorways and halls, and to have anticipated any other potential problems.
Here are the key points you need to consider:
a) The furniture size: its width (left to right), depth (front to back) and height.
b) Is there easy curb-side access for the delivery truck? If not, can you arrange it?
c) If you live in a high-rise, where is the loading dock? Is its entrance and ceiling high enough for a delivery truck? Is the lift big enough?
d) If you live in a unit, do you have to pass through stairways and landings?
e) What is the size of the stairway, including its height? (Remember that if a cabinet or sofa has to be stood on its end to get around bends or landings it will need extra height than just its longest dimension.)
f) How big is your front door/main entrance?
g) Are there any hallway angles from your main entrance or to the specific room?
h) How big are your interior doors? How wide is your interior hallway?
You must satisfy yourself that the furniture will fit through all these accesses and angles.
2. HOW TO CHOOSE
After buying a home and a car, furniture purchases are the third largest investment most of us will make, and can be a very emotional decision. When you visit different stores to select your furniture it can be quite confusing as so much furniture looks similar, although the prices might vary greatly. Some people only buy on price; some believe “You get what you pay for”, they are both biased. Some pieces might look wonderful in the showroom or in the catalogue but after they arrive you can soon become disenchanted. That is why it is so important to understand the basics when deciding on the right furniture.
As you probably know, the actual materials account for about 50% of the cost of producing a piece of furniture – design and labour are the other determining factors. If money is not an issue you might want to splurge on a world famous brand but if you are not the impressionable type and want true value for money, you should choose products that are made in regions that have much lower labour costs, provided they are made according to international quality standards. An item of furniture produced by a good factory operating under ISO9001 quality control and with low labour costs usually will give you more value for your investment. External appearance is relatively easy to copy, the internal structure and the finishing process is where quality counts, the bits you can’t see. So choosing a supplier with a long history, a good reputation, and a good management culture is critical when you are buying big ticket items. Don’t be misled by products that look similar – ask the right questions about quality, and understand what is not readily apparent.
Another general consideration when buying is that furniture designed for small units or apartments will likely look somewhat lost in a large Victorian style home, just as large scale furniture will give a small apartment a very crammed feeling although it may physically fit into the room. When you start your search for furniture, not only do you need to think about your personal taste but also the scale of the designs.
A. Living Room
When choosing living room furniture, remember that the lounge setting sets the tone for the whole room with regard to colours and style. We usually recommend that your lounge should be in a neutral colour as you can always use scatter cushions and accessories to introduce colour. And they can be easily changed if you want to adjust the mood to suit the seasons. If your room is relatively small we recommend you buy a low profile lounge as it will make your room seem larger. If you need additional seating, you might consider cubes or single chairs to place around the room. Some people like leather lounges while others prefer fabric – there is no right or wrong, it depends on personal taste. But you might take into consideration that leather is the only material that looks better and more luxurious with age. It is easy to care for and easy to clean, and because it is a natural organic material it can “breathe”, it won’t pick up the surrounding room temperature, whether it be too cold or too hot, it creates more comfort with human contact. Fabric can bring more texture and warmth to a room and the selection of materials and patterns is very extensive. Some lounges have removable covers, making them washable or dry cleanable.
The entertainment unit is usually the focal point of today’s living room. It doesn’t necessarily need to match the colour of the lounge – colour contrast can add more vibrancy to the room. If room space is limited you might consider wall units or hanging systems that can create a functional feature wall with storage but without occupying much space.
The drawer units of any cabinet usually give a good indication of the quality of the overall construction. High quality furniture usually uses 7-9 cross-placed and bonded hardwood veneer layers for the drawer side panels, which prevents the drawers from warping, expanding or contracting with the weather, and ensures that they slide smoothly.
B. Dining room
The same rules apply to the dining room – the design and material of the dining table and dining chair set the tone for the whole room. If space is limited you might decide on a glass table to make the room look more spacious without losing functionality, or an extendable dining table is another alternative.
Most furniture designers strike a happy balance between functionality and aesthetics, although sometimes something must be sacrificed in one area for the other. For example, a dining chair to be really comfortable needs to have a wide, soft seat with a high contoured back. But having six or eight big chairs in a small room will block any view, and the room will look crammed, in which case low back chairs might be the best option. Some people go to extremes with functionality. At Beyond Furniture we always advise people to consider the frequency of use. If the furniture is not frequently used, you can think more from the aesthetic perspective. Great designer furniture is one of the great visual arts, and will give you pride of ownership, as well as making a good impression on your visitors.
C. Beds and Mattresses
When considering buying a new bed, think about how it will fit into your room. Measure the overall size of the bed and leave yourself at least 60cm on each side to accommodate functional bedside tables, and to give yourself adequate room for making up the bed.
Make sure you measure your doorways, hallways and angles carefully to be sure that the bed slats and mattress will fit through because in most cases the slats or mattress is a big piece which can not be bended or folded. Every country has different standard of bed sizes and it makes sense to buy Australian standard sizes as you will have a much wider range of quality bed linen from which to choose.
You spend one third of your life in your bed so it is worthwhile to take the trouble to choose the right mattress that will give you a good night’s sleep and a fresh start each morning. You’ve probably heard that a firm mattress is the best for your back but recent research indicates that people with chronic lower back pain are more comfortable with a medium to firm mattress that supports the back and also distributes the body pressure evenly, thus reducing pressure points. More and more doctors are now recommending that people strike a happy balance between a mattress that supports the back and the one that is soft enough to give you a comfortable night’s sleep. People of different weights will feel different degrees of comfort with the same mattress, so the best way to find what is right for you is to try it out.
Other elements you need to consider are the mattress covers and the materials from which the mattress is made. Good covers can absorb moisture and perspiration, so that you feel dry and comfortable. Mattresses made by natural materials are the best on the market. Great mattresses like Grand Soleil (available at Beyond Furniture now) which are made from natural oils such as sunflower oils, and latex mattresses which are made from the sap of the rubber tree, provide the following benefits: 1) Great comfort with support and air circulation. Its natural non-sagging and self ventilating characteristics provide you with fresh and healthy sleeping environment at all times. 2) No partner disturbance. Movement on one side of the mattress does not result in movement on the other side. 3) Non-allergenic, anti-bacterial, fungus-free and germ free, it contains nothing that creates dust, so mites simply can not thrive. It is a great choice for asthma and allergy sufferers. 4) Long life span, Natural Mattress can last more than 20 years with minimal maintenance. Unlike a sprung mattress, mattresses of these natural materials retain their resilience over the years. The better ones also incorporate seven comfort zones to contour to your body shape and reduce pressure points, it relieves neck and back pain.
3. FURNITURE MATERIALS
A. Solid Timber versus Veneers
Is solid timber better than veneers or vice versa? In fact, solid timber and veneer are both very good materials. Knowing the differences can help you evaluate what is best for your home and your lifestyle.
The popularity of solid timber furniture comes from the perception that what you see is what you get, although stains can give one timber the look of another, especially if the grains are similar. Traditional construction of solid timber also indicates stability and integrity, especially with such timbers as mahogany, cherry, birch, maple and oak. Solid timbers also have the advantage of being easily refinished should the need arise.
Much of today’s better furniture is a combination of solid timber, steel (providing strength to frames, legs and other supporting structure), and veneers which are adhered to solid timber or wood composition material such as MDF (media density fibreboard). The art of veneering goes back thousands of years, to ancient Egypt where veneers of African ebony were often glued to boards of less expensive cedar to make a piece look as though it was made wholly of ebony. And the use of veneers has continued throughout history. In fact the most respected and renowned furniture makers, Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite, all used veneers extensively in their furniture making.
A veneer is simply a thin layer of timber, selected for its beautiful grain and character, then glued or bonded to another wood surface. It is not a poor substitute for solid timber. New technology has brought radical improvements to veneering. Laser techniques now provide outstanding quality control and precision cutting of veneers, allowing craftsmen to make even more beautiful grain matches. Modern glues have eliminated problems that once made veneers susceptible to separating from sub-surfaces. After a number of painstaking steps, including pattern matching and joining, gluing, sanding, polishing and finishing, today’s furniture making techniques make veneered furniture more stable and visually appealing than most solid timber furniture.
Due to environment protection, timber logging is increasingly being restricted throughout the world, making good timber scarcer and more expensive. Solid furniture in exotic timbers is beyond the reach of most. Veneering expands design possibilities as natural faults of the most beautifully grained wood can be eliminated. This means that a piece of timber doesn’t need to be perfect as crotches, knots, and other imperfections can be cut out, leaving only the good wood for veneer, which can then be pieced together to create beautiful items of furniture at a much lower cost.
Importation and transportation of timber logs is also costly due to their shape and weight. Hardwood furniture is usually heavy, requiring several strong people to move it around a room. And when moving house it can be a big hassle as usually it can’t be dismantled. In addition, modern living with air-conditioning and winter heating can cause solid timber furniture to dry out and crack or split, depending on how well the timber was seasoned before being made into furniture. On the other hand, furniture made by veneer glued to engineered wood is much lighter, and modern veneering techniques actually strengthen the wood to better withstand the modern environment.
But be aware that there is a big difference between a good wood veneer and paper or vinyl veneer that is printed to imitate wood grains. Paper or vinyl veneers can look wonderful but this is somewhat deceptive. They can usually not withstand any hot objects, they can wear off easily. More often than not, they are poorly applied to particleboard or chipboard to produce cheap furniture. Understandably, this is not good enough for the quality conscious buyer, so you should buy only quality wood veneers with proper finishing processes, not the paper or vinyl veneer.
B. Veneer paint
Due to the tree aging cycle, veneer surfaces have differing densities, and absorb different amounts of paint. At Beyond Furniture we use a water-based paint with an open pore painting process, resulting in the painted furniture having a three dimensional natural looking surface. A base coating is applied to the veneer to create a foundation and seal out the moisture, then one or two layers of coloured paint is applied. Finally Italian Acrylic paint is sprayed on the surface to seal it and protect the colour.
C. Polyurethane lacquering
The quality of the paints used and the painting process determine the smoothness and resilience of the furniture surfaces. Most furniture on the market has only one layer of base coating and one layer of colour coating. All Polyurethane finishes used by Beyond Furniture have a minimum of three layers Ultra Violet base coating to seal the wood and create a foundation, then two to three layers of colour coating applied to the surface, between each application, a sanding machine is used to achieve the highest surface condition for the next coating, and finally A high-speed buffing machine with fine wool web is used to polish the surface to create a smooth even finish. This painstaking process results in a high quality surface with high shock resilience.
D. Leather quality
Leather is processed from animal hides that have been tanned or preserved. The first determinant of quality is from what part of the hide the leather is taken. A cow hide is very thick, much too thick to be used for upholstery purposes. At the tannery where the leather is cured and dyed, the leather is split into various grades, the best always being top grain from the topmost layer of the surface. Less expensive and weaker leathers, including suede, are taken from lower layers or splits of the hide. As leather is a natural organic product rather than man made, it is not completely uniform in its thickness and, as a result, the dye will not take as deeply in some areas. This should not be considered a flaw in the leather but a part of its natural charm and character. As leather is usually sold by its approximate weight per square foot, generally speaking a piece of leather furniture is priced by the amount of leather used, and the qualities such as softness and thickness.
Soft and supple aniline leathers are considered the most luxurious and stylish, but they are not necessarily the most practical option. Aniline is a transparent liquid dye used to colour high-quality hides. These dyes provide permanent colour that also allows the natural grain and markings to show through. Pure aniline leathers are created from the highest quality top grain and are recommended for use by adults rather than for families. As no additional pigment or surface treatments are applied after the dyeing process the quality of the leather needs to be outstanding. Less than 5% of the world’s leathers qualify as pure aniline.
Semi-anilines are soft leathers that are more practical and easier to maintain, making them a wiser family option. In addition to aniline dying these hides are given added colour and/or protective finishes. Surface corrections are also made to correct imperfections and pigmenting. While semi-anilines are a safer option than pure anilines they are not as heavy duty as corrected grain leathers.
A piece of top grain leather may have some natural markings on it; you might see some wrinkles in the neck area, or a scar from rubbing, or stretch marks. If these marks are left on the hide, the grain is uncorrected. Usually the tannery uses a buffer to reduce these marks and the leather is called corrected leather. Neither type of grain is better than the other. These natural “imperfections” are part of the beauty of the leather but if they bother you, you might consider either leather splits or heavily pigmented leather instead of aniline leather.
Leather furniture is sometimes perceived as not being as durable as other upholstered furniture, which is simply not true. A good leather sofa can last 15-20 years with average use. By comparison, a top fabric sofa will start to show wear after about 5-10 years. A leather sofa can last 4-5 times longer than a fabric sofa! Other advantages of leather are that it “breathes” and won’t absorb surrounding room temperature, whether they be too cold or too hot. Leather is also easy to clean, and stains, tears, punctures and indentations are all repairable. Fabric sofas, on the other hand, can’t be so easily repaired.
D. Aluminium and Steel
Important differences between cheap furniture and quality furniture are the processes of material selection and manufacturing techniques. Because it is strong and relatively light, aluminium has become a very popular material used in furniture frames. It has great design qualities.
To minimise their costs many furniture makers use only raw aluminium, as used by builders for construction materials, such as ceiling frames and widow frames.
Beyond Furniture and other high-end manufacturers use anodized, brushed aluminium which is a far superior product, as natural imperfections have been corrected after brushing, the surface “pinholes” have been filled in the anodizing process and it will not get “rusty”. Sand blasted aluminium has a glittering, unique surface and is another refined material used in top designer furniture.
Stainless steel and chromed steel are also widely used, with one quality difference being its thickness and the strength of the metal due to different chemical compositions. As metal is sold by weight, manufacturers of cheap furniture try to make more with less, so you need to check the metal thickness if you are concerned about its durability. Some people prefer stainless steel but if it is very thin steel it won’t be stronger than timber. Chromed steel and painted steel surfaces differ from stainless steel and aluminium, the latter can be sanded in accordance with proper instructions should the need ever arise.
Glass is an amorphous solid that lacks crystalline order. Common glass is made by melting a mixture of quartz sand (silicon dioxide), soda (sodium oxide), and lime (calcium oxide). The quartz forms the basic structure of the glass, and the soda makes it much easier to melt and work with. The soda makes the glass weaker and more temperature sensitive but the lime prevents the soda-rich glass from dissolving in water.
There are several types of glass which are used in the furniture industry:
By glass strength:
* Common glass: although there are different thicknesses of glass available on the market, they are all made with similar materials. Due to high internal friction, common glass is usually soft and temperature sensitive, and if broken it will be shattered in pieces with sharp corners or angles. Common glass is widely used in commercial or residential construction.
* Tempered glass is created by using high temperature to make it higher in density than normal glass. It is about 8 times stronger than common glass, and if broken it will fragment into small non-sharp pieces. Tempered glass is stronger and safer.
By glass feature:
* Frosted glass: Chemicals are used to transform clear glass into non- transparent glass to create special features.
* Satinato glass is a new Italian technology that uses a more sophisticated process than making frosted glass to create a surface that is similar with frosted glass but more scratch resistant, and both sides can be used.
* Painted glass uses a new Italian water-based paint that fuses perfectly with glass surfaces. The finished colour is very fresh and durable, and the paint is environmentally friendly.
Crystal glass contains lead oxide which makes the glass easier to melt while still retaining its strength. Due to its high density, crystal glass is harder, has a very clear, shining surface, and is scratch resistant.